Should a Chimp Be Able to Sue Its Owner?

This could change everything! Walk me now or I sue…

This excerpt from the New York Times Magazine picks up after Steven Wise visits a chimpanzee named Tommy at Circle L Trailer Sales near Gloversville, N.Y.:

…Seven weeks later, on Dec. 2, Wise, a 63-year-old legal scholar in the field of animal law, strode with his fellow lawyers, Natalie Prosin, the executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project (Nh.R.P.), and Elizabeth Stein, a New York-based animal-law expert, into the clerk’s office of the Fulton County Courthouse in Johnstown, N.Y., 10 miles from Circle L Trailer Sales, wielding multiple copies of a legal document the likes of which had never been seen in any of the world’s courts, no less conservative Fulton County’s.

Under the partial heading “The Nonhuman Rights Project Inc. on behalf of Tommy,” the legal memo and petition included among their 106 pages a detailed account of the “petitioner’s” solitary confinement “in a small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed”; and a series of nine affidavits gathered from leading primatologists around the world, each one detailing the cognitive capabilities of a being like Tommy, thereby underscoring the physical and psychological ravages he suffers in confinement.

Along with chimps, the Nh.R.P. plans to file similar lawsuits on behalf of other members of the great ape family (bonobos, orangutans and gorillas) as well as dolphins, orcas, belugas, elephants and African gray parrots — all beings with higher-order cognitive abilities. Chimps were chosen as the first clients because of the abundance of research on their cognitive sophistication, and the fact that, at present, there are sanctuaries lined up to take in the plaintiffs should they win their freedom. (There are no such facilities for dolphins or orcas in the United States, and the two preferred sanctuaries for elephants were full.)

“Like humans,” the legal memo reads, “chimpanzees have a concept of their personal past and future . . . they suffer the pain of not being able to fulfill their needs or move around as they wish; [and] they suffer the pain of anticipating never-ending confinement.” What Tommy could never have anticipated, of course, huddled just up the road that morning in his dark, dank cell, was that he was about to make legal history: The first nonhuman primate to ever sue a human captor in an attempt to gain his own freedom…

[continues at the New York Times Magazine]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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12 Comments on "Should a Chimp Be Able to Sue Its Owner?"

  1. Gjallarbru | Apr 24, 2014 at 1:42 pm |

    Well, if we can give a fictionnal personhood to companies, that are nothing more than a mental construct and certainly not conscious, why not animals that have most often shown that they are both real and conscious?

    I would refuse personhood to a mental construct before I would refuse it to living organism. But that’s just me…

  2. “Owner”

    That’s the problem right there.

  3. Woobniggurath | Apr 24, 2014 at 1:48 pm |

    For criminal stupidity RE: owning a chimp.

  4. I think chimps are smarter and have more compassion than half the people I meet and we allow them to frivalously sue the judicial system into a bogged down almost stand still. So why not? Let them sue.

  5. emperorreagan | Apr 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm |

    Chimps should skip the courts and just eat their “owner’s” faces.

  6. Liam_McGonagle | Apr 24, 2014 at 2:58 pm |

    Think about that next time you’re tempted to spank your monkey . . .


      • Haha. I would prefer to say “spanking my great ape” anyways. Sounds a lot better for my ego cuz it has a more profound effect.

        • Adamas Macalz | Apr 24, 2014 at 6:50 pm |

          apes have penises the size of quarters…

          • Never said spank my ape size penis just like when someone says spank the monkey I doubt they are saying they have a monkey size penis ….although I guess thats good information to know….thanks.

  7. Chaos_Dynamics | Apr 24, 2014 at 4:33 pm |

    “On behalf” = fail.

    Unless the chimp is telepathic or Simon White-Thatch Potentloins.

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